Receding Alpine Glaciers and Threatened Fish Habitat: Identifying Mount Rainier’s Critical Cold-Water Zones and Protecting Native Fish Populations in a Changing Climate

  • National Park Service
  • U.S. Geological Survey
In Progress

Climate change in the Pacific Northwest has greatly affected the region’s alpine glaciers and associated aquatic ecosystems. Accelerated glacial recession on heavily-glaciated Mount Rainier has been documented, and yet the specific consequences of this rapid melt on critical cold-water aquatic habitat and threatened native salmonid fish species remain unknown. While efforts have been made to theoretically model the hydrological impacts of changing glaciers, many of these reports have yet to incorporate a strong field component, which can provide a more complete picture of how glacial melt affects aquatic habitat. To address this need, this project will use field-deployed sensors in numerous glacial systems on Mount Rainier to assess shifts in stream temperatures caused by changing glacial sources. Data gathered on glacial stream temperatures will help pinpoint both vulnerable and resilient cold-water zones, informing resource managers as they prioritize critical aquatic habitat to safeguard.  

 This project will also combine the glacial stream data collected with existing Mount Rainier stream temperature and glacial mass balance data sets to develop predictive models for the future of Rainier watersheds. These models, as well as the protocols used to collect glacial ecosystem data, will be utilized by the National Park Service, the United States Geological Survey and other land managers in efforts to monitor and restore native fish populations. As these groups continue ecological research and modeling efforts, as well as infrastructure and restoration projects aimed at protecting aquatic species threatened by a changing climate, data on potentially shifting cold-water zones will be crucial.